National Security: Government can snoop on your data

The government proposes to arm its investigating agencies with powers to snoop and carry out surveillance on personal data if doing so is necessary to ensure sovereignty and integrity of the country, security of the state, maintenance of public order, and having friendly relations with countries.

The provision — which some analysts described as “blanket surveillance” — finds a place in the Personal Data Protection Bill, and is a departure from the draft bill prepared by the Justice B N Srikrishna committee that was tasked with creating the architecture of India’s much awaited personal data protection legislation.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which is likely to be tabled in the Lok Sabha later this week, aims to create the first comprehensive law that the country will have to manage and legally protect the swathes of digital information that Indians are creating by the minute. While the Personal Data Protection Bill classifies data into three broad categories – personal; sensitive personal; and critical personal – there are areas where the central government wants to give itself unrestricted access to the information of citizens under designated situations.

“Where the central government is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient… it may, by order, for reasons to be recorded in writing, direct that all or any of the provisions of this Act shall not apply to any agency of the government in respect of processing of such personal data, as may be specified in the order,” the Bill states while spelling out the ‘exemptions’ enjoyed by central investigating agencies. As per the provision, the government will have the power to order or direct any internet or social-media provider (believed to be companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon, Flipkart, Apple) – apart from a private citizen – to share the data demanded by any of the central investigating agencies. The Srikrishna committee, which had submitted its recommendations to the government in the form of a draft law last year after holding detailed deliberations, had not made a case for such sweeping exemption to the state. 

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